August 2016

Kim Davis suit dismissed, but challenges persist

August 24 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Although a federal judge has dismissed three lawsuits against Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk who refused to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the religious liberty of officials in other states continues to face legal challenges.


Federal judge David Bunning, who jailed Davis for five days last year, closed the court’s files on all cases against her Aug. 18 and ordered them removed from the docket.
 
“The ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] wanted to pursue the case and continue it against Kim Davis to seek damages and attorney’s fees and costs,” said Davis’ attorney Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a legal organization specializing in religious liberty cases. “We opposed that, and the judge ultimately granted our request and dismissed ... all three cases that were filed against her ... It’s a significant development.”
 
Davis’ case prompted Kentucky’s state legislature last year to create a marriage license form that did not require county clerks’ signatures, codifying an executive order by then-newly elected Republican Gov. Matt Bevin.
 
Staver told Baptist Press “about half” of U.S. states have adopted some form of religious liberty protection that appears to protect state and local officials who object on religious grounds to sanctioning same-sex marriages. However, only a “minority” of those states, including Utah and North Carolina, have granted explicit protection to officials whose consciences do not allow them to solemnize same-sex marriages.
 
“What you’re starting to see is a major pushback against religious freedom when it comes to the issue of colliding with ... same-sex marriage,” Staver said, “which is a startling development and frankly a frightening development.”
 
Among local developments:

– Some county clerks in Texas continue refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Staver said, noting he knows of no legal challenge to the Lone Star State’s county clerks.

– In 2015, Utah legislators adopted a bill allowing county clerks to opt out of solemnizing same-sex marriage licenses and a separate law requiring marriage licenses to be granted to all couples while allowing room for individual counties to craft religious liberty protections, Deseret News reported.

North Carolina’s Senate Bill 2, adopted last year over Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto, continues to face legal challenges from plaintiffs who allege magistrates should not be allowed on religious grounds to recuse themselves from performing same-sex marriages and that assistant and deputy registers of deeds should not be recused from issuing marriage licenses.

Thus far, 31 magistrates have recused themselves from weddings, but no same-sex couple has been denied a wedding or been forced to delay their wedding, according to the Christian Action League of North Carolina.

“I’m very thankful that the North Carolina General Assembly worked to protect religious liberty in our state,” Christian Action League executive director Mark Creech told Baptist Press (BP). “... The problem that exists is the federal judiciary that is so adept at ruling against [laws] like this and limiting people’s religious liberty.”

– Some Alabama probate judges likely continue not to issue marriage licenses, said Eric Johnston, an attorney who advises the Alabama Citizens Action Program, an auxiliary of the Alabama Baptist Convention.

Alabama probate judges have no specific “statutory protection” of their religious liberty related to same-sex marriages, Johnston told BP. “But the judges still have the right to object to doing something that violates their religious beliefs.”

Currently no legal challenge to Alabama probate judges is pending, Johnston said.

– A Mississippi law that, among other provisions, allowed public officials to recuse themselves from sanctioning same-sex marriages was struck down June 30 by a federal judge. The law required state officials “to ensure that the performance or solemnization of any legally valid marriage is not impeded or delayed as a result of any recusal.”

– The Wyoming Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week on whether to remove from office a municipal judge and part-time magistrate who told a reporter her Christian faith would preclude her from officiating a same-sex wedding.

The high court also could fine Judge Ruth Neely $40,000 and ban her for life from the Wyoming judiciary, WORLD News Service reported. A decision could be weeks away.
 
Staver, of Liberty Counsel, said that moving forward, one key question will be whether courts allow general religious freedom bills to be applied to the right of public officials not to sanction same-sex marriages.
 
Courts, Staver said, are “not necessarily following the rule of law and [are] becoming more ideologically driven.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 
 
Related articles:
New study on pastors and same-sex weddings
Anglican rift over same-sex marriage widens
Roy Moore to stand trial for gay marriage order
‘I was born this way’ countered by professor
Christian dating site open to same-sex relationships
CCCU board considers membership requirements
Mississippi religious liberty law challenged
SCOTUS marriage ruling sparked year of ministry
Same-sex marriage advocates work to oust small-town judge
 

8/24/2016 8:24:02 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 2 comments



Despite challenges, local associations adapt, endure

August 23 2016 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

A “rope of sand with strength of steel” is the imagery James L. Sullivan used in his 1974 book to describe the tie that binds Baptist churches together. The metaphor captures the heart of voluntary cooperation – a longstanding Southern Baptist distinctive, said Lester Evans, team leader of associational partnerships for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
 
Despite the unique challenges threatening to dissolve the bonds of 78 local associations across the state, Evans said, the enduring practice of cooperation among autonomous congregations continues.
 
Dougald McLaurin Jr., president of the North Carolina Baptist Associations Conference and associational missionary for the Tar River Baptist Association, agreed. “Churches that really want to make a difference, they’re going to find ways to work together,” he said.
 
The willingness to cooperate is the greatest resource of North Carolina Baptists, said Evans and McLaurin, but the obstacles are significant.
 
“The most pressing challenge that our associations face is having a clear and focused vision of their purpose,” said Evans. Some of that springs from a lack of associational leadership.
 
Nearly 20 percent of North Carolina’s local associations have vacant or temporary leadership positions, often called directors of mission or associational missionaries. That number is down from 32 percent in recent years.
 
In addition, some churches don’t feel the need to participate in the cooperative ministries of a local association, said Evans and McLaurin. Competition among pastors sometimes leads to a “lone ranger” approach to ministry. Furthermore, the increasing convenience of travel and communication technology allows people to feel connected to other ministries or churches outside a specific geographic location. Long-distance availability can diminish the desire for fellowship through a local association.
 
Fewer participating churches in a local association usually leads to decreased funding, amplifying other problems and making it ever more difficult to secure permanent staff positions.
 
Shifting demographic trends in some areas of the state are forcing local churches – and their cooperative ministries – to rethink outreach strategies. How well an association adapts to new circumstances also factors into its overall health. “If we’re content to do associational work the way we did it last year, or yesterday,” McLaurin said, “we’re going to become irrelevant very quickly.”
 
Despite growing difficulty, Evans is optimistic about the future of North Carolina’s Baptist associations. He believes cooperation naturally occurs in the life of each believer and the corporate life of each congregation.
 
“It is part of the DNA of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer,” Evans said. “You can’t fulfill the Great Commission by yourself, so there’s this driving force in you to link arms with other believers. When you do that, churches get formed.
 
“That same DNA is in the corporate body. So, churches have this DNA to link with other churches because they can’t fulfill the Great Commission alone.”
 
It’s for this reason Evans said associations will endure. He continued, “If every association disappeared today, that DNA would drive churches. They’re going to network together.”

Evans admitted that future partnerships may look different in name or function – such as networks, alliances and so on – but he emphasized, “They’re not going away.”
 
In times of need, some associations have undergone radical changes in order to continue – and sometimes expand – their ministry. For example, the Stanly and Montgomery associations are now sharing staff and resources to become more efficient. (See story here.) The South Roanoke association totally revitalized and refocused their ministry strategy after nearly closing the doors due to financial struggles. The Metrolina association sold their property after being deeded a former church building. The facilities and funds are now used to host and support a wide variety of ethnic churches and ministries. (See story here.)
 
McLaurin encourages large and small membership churches to remember the abiding purpose of cooperative ministry. “I really do think the associations have a strong role in helping the smaller membership rural churches, and any other church that’s willing to embrace the cooperative program principle,” he said. “If you’re too big for an association, I think you’ve lost sight of helping your sister churches.”
 
Evans added, “It’s the one entity that’s closest to the local church at ground level, in terms of knowing what their needs are, what resources are available and connecting them together so they can help strengthen each other.
 
“That’s where association happens. It’s churches helping churches to become healthy enough to reach their communities and reproduce disciples.”
 

Related stories:
Stanly, Montgomery associations see fruit of partnership
Metrolina Baptist Association gets ‘burst of energy’
 

8/23/2016 9:32:39 AM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments



NCMO emphasis approaches, preparing the way for Jesus

August 23 2016 by Emily Rojas, BSC Communications

Every year in September, churches all across the state celebrate and emphasize the North Carolina Missions Offering (NCMO).


NCMO is an annual offering that supports the ministries of N.C. Baptist Men (NCBM), also known as Baptists on Mission, church planting, mission camps, associational projects and mobilization ministry projects.
 
This year, the offering’s theme is “Prepare the Way,” based on Luke 10:1, which says, “The Lord … sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go.
 
Supporting NCMO allows individuals and churches to impact lostness around the world by preparing the way for Jesus through the various ministries that NCMO supports. The 2016 goal for the offering is $2.1 million.
 
“Your investment in NCMO enables us to do as Jesus instructed,” said Richard Brunson, NCBM executive director. “By caring for the physical needs of people, we prepare the way for Jesus to meet their spiritual needs as well.”
 
NCMO supports ministry efforts both at home and abroad. Abroad, the offering supports mission partnerships in places such as Armenia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Kenya, Romania and Cuba.


In Cuba alone, NCBM has been in partnership with the Eastern Baptist Convention on the island nation for more than 12 years. Baptist churches from North Carolina have sent volunteer groups to Cuba to lead projects and disciple-making efforts among the Cuban people.
 
Within the next year, work will begin on a new seminary in Santa Clara, one of the least-reached areas of Cuba.
 
At home, NCMO supports the many ministries of NCBM, church planting, mission camps, mobilization ministry projects and work through the Baptist associations.
 
One of NCBM’s newest endeavors is the health-screening ministry, which serves uninsured and underserved populations throughout North Carolina by conducting screenings for cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and heart disease. This ministry is housed on a mobile wellness unit, which was added to NCBM’s fleet of medical and dental mobile units in 2015.
 
Crystal Horton, who coordinates the health-screening ministry, said the goal of this ministry is to identify potential health issues and offer referral appointments from local health clinicians, all while sharing the love of Christ.
 
NCMO also makes strides in pushing back lostness through church planting efforts. Twenty-eight percent of NCMO funds are allocated to planting churches throughout North Carolina. In 2015 alone, church planting consultants worked with 105 new churches – 83 new church plants and 22 new affiliate churches – thanks to these funds.
 
Church planting efforts also focus on North Carolina’s growing international population.
In North Carolina, there are 5.8 million lost people and more than 300 languages spoken within the state. This means that many lost people do not have the opportunity to hear the gospel preached in their native language.
 
With the state’s growing Hispanic population in particular, there is a great need to plant more Hispanic churches. Currently, it’s estimated that more than 1 million Hispanics reside in North Carolina.
 
“New Hispanic churches need to be planted in every town and city across the state,” said William Ortega, Hispanic church planting consultant with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. “We can meet the need of starting more Hispanic churches in North Carolina with your gifts to the NCMO.”
 
Although the NCMO emphasis occurs in September, offerings are received year-round. There are a number of free NCMO resources that pastors may use to promote NCMO in their churches available online at ncmissionsoffering.org/resources.

Contributions to NCMO work throughout the year to impact lostness and prepare the way for Jesus.


 

 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – For more information about the NCMO and the ministries it supports, or to make a contribution, visit ncmissionsoffering.org.)

Related articles:
Health screening ministry meets physical and spiritual needs
NCMO helps ‘Prepare the Way’ for Jesus
Couple donates to NCMO in lieu of wedding gifts
N.C. Baptists aid West Virginia with flood relief efforts

 

8/23/2016 9:27:22 AM by Emily Rojas, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



Target’s bathroom fix falls short, boycotters say

August 23 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Target’s $20 million plan to add single-stall bathrooms in its U.S. stores does not fix its policy allowing bathroom and dressing room use based on gender identity, the leader of a national boycott against the company said.


Target announced Aug. 17 the timeline and cost of its plan to install the locking, single-toilet bathrooms for customers who feel uncomfortable using the bathroom with those who identify as transgendered. Details of the plan came the same day Target released its second quarter earnings report showing a 7.2 percent drop in sales. Target’s stock dropped 3.3 percent in premarket trade the same day, MarketWatch announced.
 
Target’s transgender bathroom and dressing room policy remains in place and needs to simply be reversed, said Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association (AFA) that has collected 1.4 million signatures on a petition to boycott Target.
 
“The point is keeping men out of women’s restrooms. That’s the point,” Wildmon told Baptist Press. “This doesn’t solve that, unless Target says our policy is men go to men’s restrooms and women go to women’s restrooms and all other people can use this family [single stall] restroom. That’s a solution.”
 
The addition of the single-stall bathrooms is aimed at pleasing all customers, Target spokeswoman Katie Boylan said, and not an admission that the transgender bathroom policy instituted in April has hurt its business. The new bathrooms will be available to anyone wanting privacy, including individuals and adults with small children of either gender.
 
“With a retail operation of Target’s size and scope there are many, many, many factors that come into account when we look at our results,” she told Baptist Press, citing weather, seasonality, holidays, pricing and assortment, among other things. “There are so many variables that it’s nearly impossible to isolate the impact of any given one.”
 
Target announced a few months ago its intention to make the lockable, single-stall bathrooms available in all of its stores, Boylan said, and “decided it was prudent to move forward.”
 
“In sharing the bathroom policy we have been listening very closely to our guests’ feedback,” she said, “and certainly there are guests who feel very strongly in support of the [transgender] policy, others who are less so. At the end of the day, Target wants everyone to feel heard and welcome in our stores. Safety is an absolutely a priority.”
 
All but 300 of the 1,800 Targets in the U.S. already have the single-stall bathrooms available, Boylan said, and by the end of the year, the special restrooms will have been installed in all but 25 U.S. stores. The remaining stores will get the stalls by 2017, she said.
 
For its second quarter, which ended July 30, Target’s sales fell 7.2 percent to $16.2 billion from $17.4 billion during the same period in 2015, according to its financial report. Its second quarter stock earnings fell to $680 million, or $1.16 a share, compared to $753 million, or $1.18 a share during the same period in 2015, MarketWatch reported Aug. 17.
 
AFA Public Policy Analyst Abraham Hamilton III said the numbers speak for themselves.
 
“All those numbers mean Target is doing pretty bad, and our boycott definitely had an impact on them,” Hamilton said in a video posted at AFA.net. “Other retailers sold more; Target is continuing to see a downgrade.”
 
Wildmon said the boycott has also been effective in swaying other retailers from following Target’s lead.
 
“The Target boycott has been effective in stopping other companies from doing the same thing, because very few … of the national retailers announced they were doing this after they saw what happened to Target,” Wildmon said. “Ultimately we hope to win. We hope that Target will announce [a] sensible bathroom and changing area policy and everybody’s happy. This is just kind of baffling why they would do something like this and lose all this business over this.”
 
A few major retailers, including Ross, T.J. Maxx, Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue, have announced gender-identity-based bathroom and dressing room policies, according to USA Today, and Starbucks and Barnes & Noble follow such policies for bathroom use.
 
As recently as June 24, a man who identifies as a woman was arrested for felony voyeurism, accused of taking pictures of a woman changing clothes in a Target dressing room in Ammon, Idaho, the Idaho Falls Post Register reported.
 
“There’s a reason we have separate changing areas and restroom facilities, and we’ve had them around the world forever, because men and women don’t want to go to restrooms with the opposite sex,” Wildmon said. “That’s why we have them separated. People know this. It’s intuitive for all kinds of reasons.”
 
AFA’s boycott petition is available at afa.net/action-alerts/sign-the-boycott-target-pledge/.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

Related articles:
Target transgender policy: Protests escalate
 

8/23/2016 9:26:49 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 2 comments



Youth weeks emphasize living on mission

August 23 2016 by Chad Austin, BSC Communications

God’s mission is all encompassing.
 
It involves everyone and everything. It happens every day and everywhere.

BeDoTell photo
A youth weeks group prays over packaged meals. This summer, youth packed 250,000 meals that will be deliever to Haiti.


Students from all across North Carolina learned about those truths and how they apply to their lives all summer long during the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSC) summer youth weeks held at the N.C. Baptist Assembly at Fort Caswell located on Oak Island. This year’s theme was “Every One, Every Thing, Every Day, Every Where: Living on Mission” based on 1 Peter 2:9.
 
This year, more than 6,500 middle and high school students representing 277 churches attended one of the seven youth week camps held from June 13 to Aug. 6 at Caswell.
 
Each week of camp featured powerful worship, messages focused on the camp theme and a hands-on missions experience. Youth weeks also included intentional discipleship that emphasized the importance of consistently spending time in God’s Word through daily quiet times and church and small group devotions.
 
Campers also enjoyed drama, skits, games and recreational activities, all at a beautiful oceanfront setting near the southeastern tip of North Carolina. But youth weeks are designed to be a lot more than just a summer getaway with fun in the sun.
 
“Camp is not just about them coming to the beach and playing,” said Merrie Johnson, the BSC’s youth evangelism and discipleship consultant who has coordinated summer camps at Caswell for 15 years. “Youth weeks are designed to give students an opportunity to listen to God speak to them and understand what it means to have a real and vibrant relationship with Christ.”
 
Throughout the summer, Johnson, along with camp staffers, youth leaders and chaperones from the churches in attendance, saw God move in the lives of the youth who attended. Johnson said that over the course of the seven youth weeks, 297 attendees made a first-time decision for Christ, 948 rededicated their lives to Him and 334 more answered a call to vocational ministry.
 
“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I find my identity in Christ, and I need to put my trust in Him because He’s going to be there every step of the way,” said Gracelyn Williams, a first-time camp attendee from Penn Memorial Baptist Church in Reidsville. “I would love to come back next year because it’s a really great place to learn more about the gospel.”
 
Afshin Ziafat, lead pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, served as the worship service proclaimer during one of the seven youth weeks. During his series of messages throughout the week, Ziafat shared with campers how the youth weeks’ theme relates to the themes of creation, fall, redemption and restoration that form the grand narrative of the Bible. Ziafat emphasized that being a committed follower of Christ means living a life on mission for God.
 
“When you get the gospel, repent and become a follower (of Jesus), you immediately become a missionary,” Ziafat said during one of his messages. “You cannot divorce your being saved to your being sent on this mission. Every one of us is called to be on this mission.”
 
Matt Coble, a high school student from Monroe who was attending youth weeks for the fifth consecutive summer, said Ziafat’s messages helped him understand how everything that happens in life is a part of God’s plan and purposes. Coble said this year’s camp has challenged him to live out his faith more at home, at school and in his community.
 
“Every year, God speaks to me in a different way and leads me in a different direction than He did the year before,” Coble said of his youth week experiences. “This year, God is teaching me that everything has a purpose for His glory. Even though it doesn’t look like it sometimes, it’s going to be for His glory and not always what we want. I’m looking forward to sharing about Him with everyone I come in contact with.”
 
Youth weeks also gave attendees a chance to participate in a hands-on mission project while at Caswell. Each week, campers spent time each day packing meals that will be delivered to Haiti. Through an ongoing partnership with Change This World – a faith-based hunger relief organization that recently merged with a similar organization and is now known as Feeding Children Everywhere – meals packed at Caswell will be distributed to an orphanage and surrounding community in Jacmel, Haiti.
 
This past summer, campers packed 250,000 meals that will be delivered to Haiti later this year. Campers also gave more than $67,000 in offerings throughout youth weeks, which will be used to help pay for the delivery and distribution of the meals in Haiti. This summer marked the sixth year that campers had packed meals for Haiti, bringing the total number of meals packed and delivered to 1.5 million. With each meal that is delivered, the gospel is also shared.
 
“I think this is an awesome thing campers get to do because they get to be involved in missions while they are here,” said Sam Stone, who has served as a youth weeks staff member for two years. “Since our theme is being on mission, this really helps to focus in on the theme.
 
“We try to stress, however, that living on mission doesn’t mean you have to get on a plane and fly somewhere to share the gospel. Living on mission is sharing the gospel every day and living the gospel in every single moment of your life. Living on mission can be done every single day.”
 
This year, to help equip students to live on mission, Johnson expanded the training she offers for youth pastors and leaders at camp by making some sessions available to campers. The new “Youth Ministry University” gave adults and students alike the opportunity to attend classes and training sessions on topics such as how to study the Bible, world religions and starting a student-led ministry at their school.
 
“We wanted to conduct leadership training for adults and students but without requiring them to attend a separate event,” Johnson said.
 
Justin Baucom, a youth pastor at Roanoke Baptist Church in Monroe, said he witnessed God at work in the lives of his students during their week at Caswell. He said many are understanding what it means to live on mission and the importance of it.
 
“We want to help them understand that being a Christian is not just on Sunday, and it’s not just on Wednesday night,” Baucom said.
 
“It’s every day. The gospel is not just for you to hear once. The gospel is something we should hear all the time. It should be a daily reminder of what we’ve been called to do and how we should live.”
 

8/23/2016 9:21:36 AM by Chad Austin, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



Olympics wrap-up: God praised by athletes in triumph, defeat

August 23 2016 by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press

The images and memories of the 2016 Olympics will endure for much longer than the torch’s flame.

Screen Capture from NBC


Simone Biles racking up five medals (four gold) in gymnastics. Usain Bolt running away from every challenger. Katie Ledecky doing the same thing in the pool. Michael Phelps further establishing himself as the greatest Olympian ever.
 
The list could go on.
 
Several athletes who are professing Christians joined in the medal haul. Helen Maroulis won the first gold medal ever for the United States in women’s wrestling, and said that throughout her competition she repeated to herself the mantra, “Christ in me, I am enough.”
 
“I think God taught me that wrestling is a tool that He’s using to shape my character. It’s not something that I need,” she told Baptist Press prior to her competition. “I love what I do, but with every little step of the way, God’s showing me something, teaching me, challenging me in some way.”
 
After winning silver in the men’s synchronized 10-meter platform event, U.S. divers Steele Johnson and David Boudia both told NBC that their faith played a large role in how they approached their competition.
 
“When my mind is on this and thinking that I’m defined by this, my mind goes crazy,” Boudia said. “But we do have to know that our identity’s in Christ. We’re thankful for this opportunity to be able to dive in front of Brazil and for the United States. It’s been an absolutely thrilling moment for us.”
 
Swimmer Simone Manuel, who attends The Church Without Walls in Houston, captured gold in the women’s 100-meter freestyle.
 
“All I can say is all glory to God,” Manuel said after the race. “It’s definitely been a long journey these past four years. I’m just so blessed to have a gold medal ... I’m just so blessed.”
 
But perhaps more compelling than the success stories and those who profess their faith in times of abundance were the stories about believers whose faith in God was evident even in the midst of failure.
 
Take Missy Franklin, for example. The darling of the 2012 Olympics in London where she won five medals, including four golds, Franklin didn’t come close to replicating that in Rio. She won gold as part of the women’s 4x200-meter freestyle relay, but she only swam in the preliminary heat and wasn’t part of the team in the finals.
 
In her other two events – the only ones she qualified for after a disappointing performance in the Olympic trials – she didn’t even make the finals. She said her competition in Rio was the hardest week of her life, and she was relieved when it was over.
 
“I am just trusting that God has a plan and a purpose and is going to make something beautiful out of this even though I wish I could ask Him what that is going to be right now,” she said.
 
Then in what may have been the most poignant example of sportsmanship in the entire Olympics, Abbey D’Agostino collided with New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin in the women’s 5,000 meters. After both fell to the track, D’Agostino helped Hamblin up and encouraged her to keep going.
 
A few moments later, Hamblin returned the favor when D’Agostino, who tore her ACL in the fall, was struggling to stay in the race. D’Agostino ended up running a mile on her severely injured knee and finished the race, hugging Hamblin at the finish line.
 
“The thing about that moment was everything happened so fast,” D’Agostino said on the Today show. “And it’s just, all I know is I got up and my first instinct was ‘OK, turn around, we gotta finish this.’”
 
“I don’t think that was me,” she continued. “I think that was literally the spirit of God in me, like, ‘Let’s go.’”
 
Allyson Felix finished the Olympics as the most decorated woman in U.S. track and field history. She summarized on Twitter what many Christian athletes can embrace – in either success or failure.
 
“When you feel broken. When you have nothing left to give. Remain faithful,” Felix wrote. “Keep fighting. Joy comes in the morning.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.)


Related articles:
Olympics: U.S. swimmer Simone Manuel gives ‘all glory to God’
Olympians, volunteers to face Rio’s challenges
Olympics: Diving duo wins silver, gives credit to Christ
Team USA flag bearer Phelps’ rehab ‘Purpose-Driven’
Olympics: Nightly prayers keep skeet shooter’s focus on God
Olympics: U.S. volleyball player seeks God amid trials
Olympics: Wrestler Helen Maroulis content with God’s plan
 

8/23/2016 8:36:14 AM by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Stanly, Montgomery associations see fruit of partnership

August 22 2016 by Liz Tablazon, BR staff writer

Stanly Baptist Association in Albemarle, N.C., has been living out what it means to “love your neighbor” over the past three years. When Montgomery Baptist Association, 22.5 miles away in Troy, N.C., found themselves examining two different options for their future, Stanly helped them realize a third.
 
Low funds led Montgomery leaders to examine the feasibility of continuing as an association. They wondered if it was better to break apart and have churches join other associations. Hal Bilbo, associational missionary of Stanly, described Montgomery as being trapped in a cycle of having only enough funds to maintain a missionary for short amounts of time. Montgomery was not in financial shape to hire a new full-time missionary.
 
“It was clear for them the last couple [missionaries] could only stay as long as the funding was there,” Bilbo said. “When the bank balance got low, it was time to retire, or it was time to move on. They needed a model that was sustainable.”
 
In July 2013, Montgomery called Bilbo as interim missionary. With guidance from Lester Evans, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) team leader for associational partnerships, he and the search committee recognized the most value in exploring an alternative: partnering with Stanly by hiring the same missionary. One day per week, Bilbo worked in the Montgomery office, helping the association reorganize and focus on assisting churches with prayer, outreach and discipleship. While that was his set weekly schedule, he had the flexibility to work for either association from any place at any time.
 
Bilbo said technology has allowed for greater networking. “You don’t have to be physically present somewhere to assist folks. Back in the day, county-by-county, that was as much territory as most folks could network. Today, not so.”
 
Personnel and property consume most of a small association’s budget, leaving little for ministry and missions. When associations are able to collaborate on some of these responsibilities, they can devote more time to reshaping their purpose and refocusing their resources toward supporting churches.
 
Stanly and Montgomery operate as separate associations within a multi-staff organization, with joint leadership regularly meeting to coordinate strategies and plan for events.
 
Stanly’s ability to share the task of promoting events makes it possible for the smaller association, Montgomery, to host gatherings – a resource they were not able to offer in previous years. Both locations offer events like deacon training and prayer conferences. For example, a two-day event featuring the same guest speakers may take place at Stanly on Monday night and Montgomery on Tuesday. While they remain financially autonomous and receive monthly contributions from their respective churches, the two also share the cost of quarterly meetings when appropriate.
“That allows us to really do more and to have high quality conference leaders. The relationships that are built through these things, we’ve found, are very helpful for both associations,” Bilbo said.
 

Growing together

Thanks to their partnership, Stanly and Montgomery have been able to expand their staff. Each association now has an administrative assistant, and earlier this year, Montgomery called Rick Miller as a second missionary.
 
Miller, who previously served in Japan for 18 years, began his ministry with Montgomery on April 1. Although he focuses on and devotes more time to Montgomery and Bilbo concentrates primarily on Stanly, they assist each other with ministry development and implementation for both associations. They meet once a week to plan, strategize and pray together.
 
“I have the freedom to provide pastoral care to the 23 MBA [Montgomery] churches and their pastors and richly benefit from the experience and wisdom of a seasoned associational missionary who is willing to mentor and provide direction, strategic insight and encouragement,” said Miller.
 
“We’re wired differently, have different gifts, we can provide different support for churches and pastors. … We can provide a whole lot more to both associations,” Bilbo said. “[Stanly] sees this as being a good neighbor. When you’re good to your neighbors, the whole neighborhood benefits. Stanly benefited as well.”
 

The future of associational networking

Through his work with Stanly and Montgomery, Bilbo has seen the fruit of partnering together. Since 2013, he has started the Network of Collaborating Associations to help other associations navigate the process of cooperating with each other while maintaining their unique identities.
 
“What I’m seeing is that weaker associations were just closing out,” he said. “They would merge, and in losing identity and historic standing, with some existing from the 1880s, we lose a lot of autonomy because strategies in each county might need to be a little different.”
 
The Network takes advantage of missionaries’ unique areas of passion, experience and expertise, which they may not be utilizing to their full potential in their respective associations. Individuals’ specialized skills can more effectively address the various challenges churches face.
 
Bilbo works with former associational missionaries Keith Dixon and Rick Astle on helping associations recognize the value of the Network. Astle said he is confident that if missionaries take intentional steps toward partnering with other associations, “we will move closer toward unity, be more effective in His glorious work and demonstrate to the world that God sent His son.”
 
Astle, Bilbo and Dixon see the alliance as much more than a survival plan but a tool that is shaping the new face of associations.

Related articles:
Metrolina Baptist Association gets ‘burst of energy’
 

8/22/2016 4:24:00 PM by Liz Tablazon, BR staff writer | with 0 comments



Flood relief to extend ‘as far as the eye can see’

August 22 2016 by Louisiana Baptist Message & BP staff

Aboard a Black Hawk helicopter rescuing flood victims in south Louisiana, Staff Sgt. Chad McCann saw “water to the roofs of homes as far as you can see,” with the Amite River still rising, “methodically washing away foundations, structures and trees.”

Photo by Jered Thomas, Baptist Message
Sandbags surround First Baptist Church in Lake Arthur, La., on Aug. 18 as the community braced for the crest of the Mermentau River.


“It is way worse … more widespread” than even Hurricane Katrina, said McCann, a member of Union Baptist Church in Deville, La., who made 80 airlift rescues after Katrina’s 2005 onslaught.
 
[T]hese people live in areas that have never flooded … not in a 1,000 years,” McCann told the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
 
“They had no way of knowing this was going to happen when they went to bed Friday night,” the Army National Guard crew member said of flooding that has claimed 13 lives since early Saturday morning, Aug. 13, after 48 hours of record rainfall.
 
McCann’s aviation unit was flying over some of the hardest-hit areas of flooding that has destroyed or damaged at least 40,000 homes across 20 Louisiana parishes. An estimated 60 Southern Baptist churches have been destroyed or damaged along with the homes of 20 or more pastors – many without flood insurance.
 
McCann said the rescue missions took a toll on the helicopter’s pilots and crew spiritually, emotionally and physically in making 48 rescues, some in driving rain.
 
McCann asked for prayer for his unit but, more so, the people devastated by the flood.
 
“They have lost everything. They have lost their homes, their possessions, and their livelihood. But they haven’t lost hope. We are meeting some amazing people every day. So, please pray for God to strengthen these people.”

Baptist Message photo
Floodwater has destroyed or damaged an estimated 60 churches in Louisiana, including Crossgate Baptist in Robert (top left); French Corner Baptist in Ponchatoula (top right); Blood River Baptist in Albany (bottom left); and River Road Baptist in Hammond (bottom right).


David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, recounted in the Baptist Message, “… we dealt with historic flooding in March across northern and western parts of our state. Volunteers from across Louisiana, as well as our Baptist brethren from a dozen or more state conventions, responded to the need. All told, volunteers spent 80 days assisting victims during the spring floods – and here we go again.”
 
But, Hankins noted, it’s also “déja vu all over again as God’s people rise up and meet the needs He’s put before us.”
 
Gevan Spinney, president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, assured flood survivors that Baptists will be a key part of the recovery effort; “we are praying for you, and we are coming.”
 
“I’ve been up here at the convention building [in Alexandria] and I’ve seen the command center,” Spinney, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Haughton, told the Baptist Message. “They are putting things in place.”
 
Along the walls are maps of Louisiana, dry erase boards updated in real time and tables with laptops to assist in the operations.
 
On one whiteboard is a list of 22 Louisiana Baptist churches already serving as mobile feeding centers; hosting disaster relief volunteers; serving as shelters for evacuees; responding to mud-out requests for areas where waters have receded; distributing food, water, clothing and other essentials to sustain families displaced by the flooding; providing mobile shower units; and performing training for “walk-up” volunteers.
 
Another board shows the first wave of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams – from Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and Tennessee – who have come alongside Louisiana Baptists for the immediate crisis and long-term recovery response.
 
There are numbers listed for the several points of contact with the North American Mission Board which is helping coordinate assistance across the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
 
And there is a list of Louisiana Baptist churches and pastors’ homes damaged in the flood and needing immediate assistance.
 
Information about the convention’s relief initiatives, as well as a link for providing financial assistance, can be accessed at LouisianaBaptists.org/DisasterRelief or the Baptist Message website, BaptistMessage.com.
 
A basic guide for mud-out work has been posted by the Message at BaptistMessage.com/basic-mudout-guide-louisiana-homeowners.
 
A number of disaster relief training sessions have been scheduled by churches as well as one for Louisiana State University students Aug. 20 led by Steve Masters, campus director of the LSU Baptist Collegiate Ministry.
 
“The greatest needs in a lot of the homes are spiritual needs,” Spinney added. “And I want to encourage you to use this opportunity to win souls. … You don’t need a passport for this mission trip.”
 
John Hebert, the Louisiana convention’s missions director, said it is “an opportunity to restore lives” – “but also to win souls.” He urged prayer that “the lost will see Christ in us and allow us to share the gospel with them.”
 
Regarding volunteers, Hebert said, “In situations like this, we need a lot of warm bodies and we are prepared to qualify ‘walk-ups’ to serve on a disaster relief team with brief standardized training on-site. Then we pair them up with a certified volunteer to ensure safety and efficiency,” he said. Some worksites will be able to outfit workers, but he urged volunteers to come prepared to be self-sufficient with work gloves and boots and such, but that meals would be provided.
 
Ron Thompson, director of missions for District Eight Baptist Convention, a group of five associations in the state, told the Message, “I don’t think it really sinks in how bad this is, until you get here.
 
“See it. Smell it. Feel it. Hear the National Guard helicopters or see the National Guard caravans,” Thompson said. “Then it sinks in.”
 
At New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), which was devastated by Katrina in 2005, the student services staff is working to identify students and other members of the seminary family affected in various ways by the flooding in south Louisiana.
 
“The three best ways to help,” NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said, “are to volunteer to work on an SBC disaster relief team, donate gifts of cash to those helping the affected and those affected, or donate Walmart gift cards to families affected. These are the things that helped us the most after Hurricane Katrina.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston with reporting by Will Hall, Philip Timothy and Brian Blackwell of the Baptist Message, baptistmessage.com, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and Gary Myers of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)

Related articles:
Baptist relief ramping up flood response in South Louisiana
Amid Louisiana flooding, social media conveys hope
SBDR deploying 4 kitchens to south Louisiana
 

8/22/2016 4:23:01 PM by Louisiana Baptist Message & BP staff | with 0 comments



Metrolina Baptist Association gets ‘burst of energy’

August 22 2016 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

Bob Lowman, director of missions for the Metrolina Baptist Association (MBA), said the closing of one of Charlotte’s historic churches, while disappointing, turned out to infuse a “fresh burst of energy and a renewed vision of what we’re supposed to be about as an association.”

BSC photo
These Montagnard believers from Vietnam are faithful to attend the School of International Leaders one Saturday each month in the Metrolina Baptist Association’s Great Commission Center. Ralph Garay teaches these future leaders to pray for one another to glorify God by making disciples based on their SHAPE (Spiritual Gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality and Experiences).


Green Memorial Baptist Church was established in 1939 in the growing Plaza neighborhood with 217 members out of Ninth Avenue Baptist Church. The church grew into an effective congregation and built facilities that were consistent with the prestige of its community.
 
But for almost 20 years the church has seen a steady decline in attendance and giving. Attempts at revitalization have not been productive. “They had a young pastor who did his best for seven years to work with the church and reach the community, but nothing seemed to take,” Lowman said. The church leaned on Lowman’s counsel as they considered options and prayed about their future.
 
Then in January of 2015 Lowman said the church leaders asked for another meeting saying, “We’re not sure how much longer we can keep going.” The facility’s main boiler failed so there was no heat in the sanctuary. It was not feasible to repair or replace the unit.
 
“So they started talking about their direction,” Lowman continued. “A legacy church plant was considered but the church wanted to just give the Metrolina Baptist Association the property and let the churches decide how to use it.”
 
At the same time, MBA had been discussing the idea of selling their 14,000 square feet office building in downtown Charlotte for several years, but they were unsure where they would relocate.
 
Lowman said, “Looking at a map in my office we asked, ‘What would be the most central location for a new MBA office?’ More than once I said, ‘If anything ever happened to Green Memorial, that would be an ideal location for us.’ A few years later that possibility became reality.”
 
Green Memorial already had written in their bylaws to give the property to MBA if the church ever ceased to exist. The church voted to affirm that. The last Sunday in April 2015 the church held their last service. The property was legally transferred to MBA by June 1.
Renovations began immediately to convert the 24,000 square feet church facility into the newly titled Great Commission Center (GCC), launching a series of new ministries, church plants and vision.
 
The association’s 30 year-old downtown building was sold this past April for more than $2.7 million. In May, MBA moved to the old Green Memorial property with resources in hand to renovate the buildings and invest in church revitalization projects, church planting, training and new outreach ministries. “We’re trying to be deliberate and wise in the use of those resources and ... do the kind of ministry God’s called us to do here,” said Lowman.
At the busy intersection of The Plaza and Central Avenue just east of downtown Charlotte, the GCC includes the church’s educational space, a gymnasium, sanctuary and a house across the street.
 
The gym is already being used for a sports outreach. Last fall, Asian church planter Ben Bautista asked to use the gym for a basketball clinic to reach children and their families. The intent was to target the city’s growing Asian population.
 
Now every Monday some 20 to 30 children attend the clinic. But they are not all Asian. African American, Hispanic and Anglo children along with their parents are coming. A church planter teaches basketball skills, they have a Bible study and they pray together. Bautista’s goal is for the Monday night attendees to become a church plant in the GCC.
Fruitland Baptist Bible College has a weekly class for Hispanics in the GCC.
 
Lowman said MBA is partnering with Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to offer classes through the seminary’s EQUIP Network. It begins this fall with Lowman teaching biblical interpretation.
 
In partnership with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), Ralph Garay leads a group they call the School of International Leaders for Church Multiplication. One Saturday each month a group of 77 ethnic pastors and leaders gather in the GCC to hear Garay teach pastoral ministries, church leadership, missions, disciple-making and Biblical theology. He is an Asian church planting consultant with BSC.
 
Garay said the first year of training emphasizes the foundations of ministry, and the second year will focus on practical ministry. “At the end of the second year we want to see if they have started sharing the gospel, making disciples, forming small groups and starting a new congregation somewhere.”
 
He encourages them to start a school of multiplication among their own language groups. Attendees represent 28 language groups from 21 Charlotte area churches. They come from Vietnam, Burma, Nepal, the Philippines, Eritrea, Laos, Thailand and Korea.
 
The GCC is also a meeting place for four congregations every Sunday. A Montagnard group meets at 8:30 am. A Filipino congregation gathers at 10:30. An established Korean church that lost their previous meeting location worships at 2 p.m. and a new Korean church plant meets at 4:30.
 
“Our plan is to make this place a home for 10 or 12 ethnic churches,” Lowman said. “Every Sunday we have 31 languages spoken in the 140 churches and church plants that are part of the Metrolina Association, in addition to English.”
 
Another use for the GCC is to provide housing for mission teams and volunteers who come to serve in the area, Lowman added. Former Sunday School classrooms are being turned into bedrooms. One room will become a pastor’s retreat room.
 
Another large room will accommodate a team of about 20 volunteers with adjoining shower facilities. The house across the street can be converted to a missionary residence or a place of refuge for pastors.
 
“The sky is the limit with the space we have,” he said.
 
Lowman said associational ministry is challenging, but the teamwork reminds Baptists that we are not “individual contractors who are doing our own thing. There’s a vision here to join together to serve the city and the area where God has planted us. So, I’m very hopeful for the future here. At the same time, there are still challenges and we’re not always sure what’s going to happen next.
 
He cited the growing number of churches like Green Memorial that are reaching that critical point of asking, “Can we keep going? What are we going to do with this facility? Can we merge with another church?”
 
Associational leaders like Lowman have the opportunity to walk with those congregations to encourage them toward biblical, loving, great commission-centered results that will help them look to the future, be missional in their vision and help them make the right decisions, he said.
 
After 10 years of service at MBA, Lowman said he believes relationships are the key to effective associational ministry. “How actively and how closely can we be related to one another as pastors and leaders? The stronger those relationships are, the stronger the work of the association will be.”
 
He strongly states his case for the centrality of the local church. “Jesus said He would build His church. That’s one thing we’ve gotta keep clear. Jesus did not say He would build His association or convention. “But in terms of connectedness, availability and the ability to serve churches, the local association is the closest Baptist entity to that local church,” Lowman added. “If we as associational leaders are serious about connecting with our churches and staying connected with our churches, we can be the kind of resource, partner and friend that our pastors need.”
 

North Carolina Missions Offering

Ten percent of gifts to the North Carolina Missions Offering is returned to local associations. For MBA that amount is almost $10,000. The funds have been used to support neighborhood mission workers, summer workers and specific mission projects. “We’re really thankful for our churches that give to the state missions offering so that those blessings can come back to us, and we’re thankful for North Carolina Baptists and the way we are blessed through that joint missions giving effort.”



Related articles:
Stanly, Montgomery associations see fruit of partnership
 

8/22/2016 4:13:13 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments



Business owner uses technology to give back to God

August 22 2016 by Emily Blake, Special to the Recorder

Scott Moore, co-founder of Trident Technology Solutions, was attending a weekly Bible study with several local business owners when he began to feel convicted to give more of his business back to God. He was already tithing personally, but at that time Trident was strictly a for-profit business.
 
Moore decided that needed to change.

Contributed photo
Based in Wake Forest, Trident Technology Solutions provides discounts to churches and other Christian non-profits.


After the discussion at his Bible study, Moore felt compelled to stop profiting financially when working with Christian organizations. “I spoke with my business partner, Tad Kuvik, and was surprised at how readily he accepted the idea,” said Moore.
 
“I was happy with the idea as soon as I heard it,” Kuvik said. “Churches and ministries do so much to help people without asking anything in return. I think serving the church is one of the best ways to give back to the community.”
 
On April 1, 2013, Trident, a full-service information technology company in Wake Forest, reached out to their current Christian nonprofit clients and reduced their pricing immediately. From that point Trident has only charged Christian organizations for the market cost of their products and services. They make no financial profits from these relationships.
 
Conviction came again a few years later as Moore was listening to his pastor, Jimmy Carroll at Journey Church, one Sunday morning. Moore decided he wanted to do more. On top of eliminating profits from their current Christian clients, Trident was going to specifically seek out opportunities to serve Christian nonprofits despite the fact that those business relationships would not directly benefit the company’s finances.
 
“In 2015 we decided to bring on a new sales executive, Robert Thomas, and have him spend a portion of his time focusing on assisting Christian organizations with their technology requirements allowing them to spend more time and money growing God’s Kingdom,” said Moore.
 
Thomas, who had recently graduated from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) in Wake Forest, led Trident to look not only at saving churches’ money, but also to guide them to make information technology (IT) decisions that are gospel-focused.
 
“My job is to be an evangelist for Trident,” said Thomas. “I oversee our efforts to give back to churches and Christian organizations. As a guy who grew up in Christian ministry, I think it’s pretty cool that I get to stand with a foot in both circles. I get to hang out with church leaders and help them think theologically about technology, and I also get to work with businesses to help them find the best solution available to meet their needs.”
 
Some of Trident’s recent clients have included Richland Creek Community Church, Wake Forest; North Wake Church, Wake Forest; SEBTS; Truett McConnell University, Cleveland, Ga.; Celebration Church, Raleigh, and Welch College, Nashville, Tenn.
 
“Trident is an invaluable partner,” said Wayne Jenks, SEBTS director of information technologies. “They have assisted us in choosing the appropriate technology for our institution.”
 
Q: How can churches and ministries benefit from a belief-based perspective on technology?
 
A: Making IT decisions can feel like a mundane aspect of business administration – outside of the realm of ministry. Often churches base their decisions on budget or trends alone.
“God reigns over all parts of the world,” said Thomas. “If Christ is truly the Redeemer of culture, then we should be seeking to infiltrate Christian thinking into everything we do. Shouldn’t we let our theology drive even the way we make decisions regarding technology in our organizations?”
 
Trident has provided churches with check-in computers, projection screens, public Wi-Fi, Internet security and more.
 
Moore explained that, “Many churches leverage the expertise of their members in specific areas, but they may not have a full understanding of technology and communications as a whole.  Because of this, we often see a hodge-podge of manufacturers and solutions that often increase the complexity and reduce the performance of their network or communications infrastructure.  Trident has the expertise on staff and desire to help Christian organizations with their overall technology plan – again freeing up both time and resources for them to focus on Kingdom growth.”
 
“It has been so cool to watch the company evolve,” said Kuvik. “It started as four guys working from their houses, and now we own two buildings. We’re in a position where we can really give back and benefit the Christian community.”
 
“Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has partnered with Trident since 2008 on a variety of different projects,” said Ryan Hutchinson, SEBTS executive vice president for operations. “It is great to work with a company that understands and supports our mission, since we both have the goal of seeing Christ’s Kingdom advance.”
 
Q: Is there anything wrong with profiting from Christians?
 
A: Moore knows eliminating profits from Christian organizations is not something that every company can or even should do. He readily admits there is nothing mandated in the Bible that prohibits Christians from doing profitable business together. It is a personal conviction, and he has seen God honor his obedience.
 
“It’s an exercise in faith,” he says. “I believe when God calls you to do something, he will also provide a way to accomplish it.”
 

8/22/2016 4:01:46 PM by Emily Blake, Special to the Recorder | with 0 comments



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